Our modern environment is burdened with an unprecedented number of industrial, man-made toxic substances, many of which known carcinogens, that have the most deleterious effects on health. From an evolutionary perspective, our bodies are not used to dealing with this incoming stream of toxicity hence rising levels of ill health in the population.
Toxic metals are some of the worst toxins in our environment causing systemic, long-term damage in the human body. This article explains how toxic damage occurs and what the sources of toxic exposure are.
According to a landmark article published by NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury rank among the priority metals that are of public health significance due to their high degree of toxicity.These toxic metals have a wide distribution in the environment, with multiple industrial, domestic, agricultural, medical and technological applications.
Heavy metals are considered systemic toxicants that are known to induce multiple organ damage, even at lower levels of exposure. This is due to DNA damage through base pair mutation, deletion, or oxygen radical attack on DNA. Therefore heavy metals are also classified as human carcinogens according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Their toxicity depends on several factors including the dose, route of exposure, as well as the age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of exposed individuals.
In other words, any deficiency in the vitamins and minerals involved in the detoxification pathways in the liver AND in the energy-producing mechanism in the mitochondrias (and this means virtually ALL the vitamins and minerals we know) will lead to a bioaccumulation of these toxic metals in tissues and cells where they disrupt important cellular processes affecting your energy levels and creating ill health.
As far as genes are concerned, some people are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to detoxifying heavy metals. The glutathione system (which is our main protection against heavy metal toxicity) is impaired in individuals with the Del variant of the GSTT1 gene, which is also linked with a decreased ability to absorb and assimilate vitamin C from the diet (I recently wrote an entire article on this subject that you can access here).
Now let’s consider them one by one.
Where do we get arsenic from?
Arsenic-containing compounds are produced industrially and have been used to manufacture products with agricultural applications such as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, algicides, sheep dips, wood preservatives and dyes. Due to the high usage of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides on crops, all non-organic produce contain traces of arsenic.
Also, the water supply is contaminated with high concentrations of arsenic and this situation is worse in certain areas of the world due to widespread contamination from agricultural and industrial practices. US is one of these countries according to this article.
Exposure to arsenic occurs via the oral route (ingestion), inhalation, dermal contact.
For most individuals, their diet is the largest source of exposure, with an average intake of about 50 µg per day. Arsenic concentration in various foods was found to range from 20 to 140 ng/kg. (Cf. Morton WE, Dunnette DA. Health effects of environmental arsenic. In: Nriagu JO, editor. Arsenic in the Environment Part II: Human Health and Ecosystem Effects. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc; 1994. pp. 17–34.)
Ways in Which Arsenic Harms Your Body
Arsenic can cause a number of human health effects. Several epidemiological studies have reported a strong association between arsenic exposure and increased risks of both carcinogenic and systemic health effects.
Arsenic exposure affects virtually all organ systems including the cardiovascular, dermatologic, nervous, hepatobilliary, renal, gastro-intestinal, and respiratory systems. Therefore, people who have been exposed to high concentrations of arsenic display various clinico-pathological conditions including cardiovascular and peripheral vascular disease, developmental anomalies, neurologic and neurobehavioural disorders, diabetes, hearing loss, portal fibrosis, hematologic disorders (anemia, leukopenia and eosinophilia) and carcinoma. Research has pointed to significantly higher mortality rates for cancers of the bladder, kidney, skin, and liver in many areas of arsenic pollution.
Sources of cadmium exposure
By far, the main route of exposure to cadmium is via cigarette smoke.
Secondly, we are exposed to cadmium through ingestion of food. Due to its presence in the soil, cadmium is also present in trace amounts in certain foods such as grains (especially wheat products such as bread), seeds, leafy vegetables, potatoes, liver and kidney, and crustaceans and mollusks. Foodstuffs that are rich in cadmium can greatly increase the cadmium concentration in human bodies. Examples are liver, mushrooms, shellfish, mussels, cocoa powder and dried seaweed (NB: the solution is not to eliminate these foods from the diet as they contain a myriad molecules that will help you detoxify cadmium and other toxic metals. The solution is to BUY ORGANIC & LOCAL PRODUCE and DETOXIFY REGULARLY)
Because of continuing use of cadmium in industrial applications, the environmental contamination and human exposure to cadmium have dramatically increased during the past century.
Ways in Which Cadmium Harms Your Body
Cadmium is a severe pulmonary and gastrointestinal irritant.
Cadmium affects the circulatory system and blood vessels are considered to be main stream organs of cadmium toxicity. Research shows that chronic exposure to cadmium through inhalation is generally associated with changes in pulmonary function (emphysema) and decreases in olfactory function.
Several epidemiologic studies have documented an association of chronic low-level cadmium exposure with decreases in bone mineral density and osteoporosis.
Tests for Cadmium Toxicity
Exposure to cadmium is commonly determined by measuring cadmium levels in blood or urine. According this this study, blood and urine cadmium levels are typically higher in cigarette smokers, intermediate in former smokers and lower in nonsmokers.
Cadmium and cancer
Cadmium compounds are classified as human carcinogens by several regulatory agencies. The International Agency for Research on Cancer  and the U.S. National Toxicology Program have concluded that there is adequate evidence that cadmium is a human carcinogen. The lung is the most definitively established site of human carcinogenesis from cadmium exposure. In some studies, occupational or environmental cadmium exposure has also been associated with development of cancers of the prostate, kidney, liver, hematopoietic system and stomach.
More articles on this topic to follow soon.